I suspect that the way we are raised has a profound impact on whether or not we consider the ability and/or willingness to enter into conflict or confrontation or to be honest to be a positive or negative trait. I have always felt a bit ambivalent about it. On the one hand, I know that I’m supposed to shy away from conflict/confrontation/honesty for a variety of reasons. For example, I’m a woman, and, therefore, it is my bounden duty to suck it up and give and give and give to other people until there is nothing left. Various interpretations of my faith make rather a big deal about the directive to turn the other cheek, even to an insane degree. Cognitively, I think all that is just stupid, but the inclination to give to that degree resides much deeper in my being than my cognitive self can always control, and I instinctively think that it’s a sign of poor character that I even feel the inner struggle to stand up for myself on occasion or to be truly honest. I am not certain, but I believe that this phenomenon of generations of women feeling the desperate need both to prostrate themselves and, simultaneously, to defend themselves is a mid-western trait.
Despite my mid-western upbringing, in my cognitive self (for the most part), I’m not the type to run from confrontation. There are a few topics that I generally avoid–I am, for example, extremely uncomfortable with conversations (or even just remarks) about my physical appearance unless said remarks are negative…. I use bizarre evasive maneuvers when I encounter positive remarks on my appearance… It makes no sense, but perhaps none of us can be completely logical all of the time–but, aside from all that, I am a forthright person who speaks plainly and has no patience for strange non-confrontational and/or passive aggressive behavior. However, I feel a profound inner struggle whenever I am called upon by my personality (that cognitive self) to be forthright to an individual or a group. Maybe honesty is always a fraught thing, its aftermath marked by recrimination and worry.
In a way, isn’t it easiest to simply go along with life? People misunderstand you? Eh, let them. People treat you poorly? Eh, let them. Even the suffering that comes with just going along with things, whether or not they are what we want, isn’t that also something that we relish, in a strange way? We point to all of our long-suffering woes as the hallmark of our character. “I am a good person,” we say, “I let everyone run roughshod over me. Isn’t that wonderful?”
Life is full of loopholes. One of my friends, when she was younger, always kept her food separated and was horrified by any mixing of food except that when her mother made mashed potatoes and peas at the same meal and when the mashed potatoes were lumpy, she would mix the two together. The horror of lumpy mashed potatoes trumped the horror of food mixed together.
In the same way, my ingrained horror of watching other people suffer trumps my ingrained horror of confrontation, so I never feel a compulsion to feel guilty when I have entered into a conflict on behalf of someone else. If I am merely defending myself, however, I must go through the motions of feeling bad about it until my cognitive self is able to catch up.
This is all very ridiculous. Is it normal to spend so much time trying to determine the difference between the cognitive self and the deeper self? Does anyone else think about this sort of thing, or is it all just more evidence of my neurosis?